FILE — The River Fire burns thousands of acres south of Salinas in August 2020. Officials are predicting another strong wildfire season this year. (Tony Nuñez/Staff)

MONTEREY COUNTY — Residents throughout Monterey County are being warned that this year’s low amount of rainfall and dry weather conditions will mean a more intense fire season, which has already begun.

Normal years would have a fire season that started around June, but the increased risk is prompting emergency services personnel to remind residents to take preventive steps and have emergency plans and supplies ready.

“The National Weather Service has predicted this to be a pretty severe wildfire season mostly because we’ve been in a partial drought for the past 12 months,” said Gerry Malais, emergency services manager with Monterey County Office of Emergency Services. “The rainfall that we have had has really allowed the flash fuels like grass to grow quite rapidly.”

Malais said this rapid-growing grass has now dried and is ready to become a ladder for blazes to reach into trees. He added that preparing differs, as urban residents will have different steps to take than people who live near wildlands.

Keeping a space barrier between structures and vegetation is the first step in preventing the spread of fire on property. Malais said this includes not only wild brush at the edge of property lines, but also means decorative vegetation or trees, as a desired tree next to a building serves as fuel and a way for fire to reach structures in the event of a wildfire.

“Look at your personal situation and look at it with a common sense eye,” he said.

Evaluating the types of materials used in the construction of buildings is another step. Malais warned that even tile roofs aren’t immune to fire, as heavy winds can blow sparks through gaps between tiles and wood is often the next material down past the tiles.

Malais explained fire creates its own weather system with high winds, during which an ember field can be spread up to two miles ahead of the fire. Not only do they get into gaps in protective roof tiles, but they can also go into vents, despite screens meant to keep out rodents and small debris.

The hot embers can pass right through and start fires in attics, which soon consume the rest of the structure. Checking for gaps and installing vent dampers is one step to combat these problems.

Having an emergency supply kit was another suggested way to be prepared.

“One of the key components of an emergency supply kit is water and food,” Malais said. “You may be cut off from evacuation routes and may not be able to leave.” He also noted the alternative is being away from a house with evacuation times of up to a week, or even losing a house altogether and having only the supplies in the kit.

The recommended water is one gallon per person in the household per day, with a recommendation of seven days. In addition, a seven-day supply of non-perishable food is recommended. Medicines, especially backups of prescriptions, are a necessity for those who need them.

Another component of the preparedness is a go-bag.

“If you can evacuate, you just grab your go-bag and leave,” Malais said. “That has the essentials that you’re going to need if you’re outside your home and can’t return to your home.”

The go-bag should include such items as a first aid kit, prescriptions, money, chargers, sanitation items, clothing and blankets. Also recommended is camping gear in case of being stranded by the emergency.

Malais also suggested bringing a propane stove, in the event of needing to cook food while stuck in a situation where utilities are inoperable, and documenting valuables contained in the home.

“If the home does not survive, you save yourself if you’ve documented all your valuables, preferably photo documentation,” he said.

Malais advised against thinking a fire safe will work, because though the safe might survive 800 degrees, the paper documents inside will burn into ash when the temperatures reach the 400 to 600 degrees range.

Emergency Services Planner Kelsey Scanlon recommended following as many emergency steps as possible after the county talked to survivors of the 2020 fires.

“The ones who were the most resilient were the ones who did the defensible space and the home hardening and had the go-kit and they had their documents saved and ready to go,” Scanlon said. “They are leagues ahead of the other wildfire survivors because they did all of the things, not just one of the things.”

Residents were advised to sign up for the county’s emergency alert program, which can be found at

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Sean Roney is a freelance reporter for King City Rustler and Salinas Valley Tribune, a unified publication of Greenfield News, Soledad Bee and Gonzales Tribune. He covers general news for the Salinas Valley communities in South Monterey County.


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